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Tank of the Month TANK OF THE MONTH - February 2023 - Ultum_Hiep's Nature Aquarium

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Hi my name is Hiep Hong (@Ultum_Hiep), I’ve been aquascaping for about 11 years and have been keeping aquariums for as long as I can remember. I am most known for my accolades within the competitive aquascaping scene from around 2016 until now. My most notable achievement would be my 2018 entry into the IAPLC which got me rank #4 which made me the first American aquascaper to ever break into the top 10. This year I have had the great opportunity to join UNS (Ultum Nature Systems) full-time as their Brand Representative and Content Marketing Associate. This Aquarium is a relic of my hoard of old tanks and is a discontinued Aquavas 65cm which I entered into the IAPLC for 2022.

Hiep's IAPLC 2018 #4

System Profile​

1. Display tank: Aquavas 65cm
2. Glass or acrylic: Glass
3. Stand: Aquavas
4. Sump? None
5. Filter: Aquavas Stainless Steel Canister filter
6. CO2: Yes (UNS pro mini regulator and Paintball canister)
7. Water circulation: no idea
8. Lighting: UNS Titan 1
9. Dosing: ADA step 2 once weekly
10. Auto top off: none
11. Heating/cooling: Hydor inline heater
12. System contro: none

Water circulation and flow summary and objectives​

Nothing really, it is pretty straightforward as this design has plenty of open space for circulation, dead spots at the base of the stems are manually cleared out via hand waving during maintenance.

Water parameters​

1. Temp: 76-78F
2. PH: 6.8 ish
3. NO3 - Don’t test for it
4. PO4 - Don’t test for it
5. Fe - seachem iron every once in a blue moon for giggles, but I’m not super on top of it
6. Tap or RO/RODI - Tap water (come out around pH 7.2 TDS 160-180)
7. Do you remineralize? No

What do you dose your tank and how? Fertilizer objectives​

I dose lean and let the plants talk to me. It might sound pretty loose and that’s because it is. I’ve never been one to chase numbers or parameters, I have had my most success through careful observation and intuition, after so many years I just kind of know what it needs.


UNS Controsoil Extra fine Black

Aquascaping style objective?​

It started off as just an iwagumi with hairgrass but I had the opportunity to get some stem plants I liked so I added them to the tank just to keep them alive, eventually they remained permanent in the scape.

Lighting summary and objectives​

I used the UNS Titan1 because of its amazing color saturation abilities. It really makes the reds and greens pop with vibrance.

Filtration objectives​

Mostly biological (Seachem matrix) and filter floss for mechanical filtration to keep the water crystal clear. I also have a bag of chemipure green in the filter for chemical filtration as well.

Maintenance routine and export strategy​

1. Daily - feeding fish, manually waving detritus out of flow dead zones.
2. Weekly - water change if I am able to
3. Monthly - sometimes water changes only happen once a month
4. Quarterly - nothing outside of the above.

Tank inhabitants - fish​

Hyphessobrycon negodagua, hyphessobrycon sp. 'red cherry', moenkhausia dichroura, Brachychalcinus orbicularis

Tank inhabitants - inverts​

Amano Shrimp

Tank inhabitants - plants​

Eleocharis acicularis mini, eleocharis parvula, ludwigia inclinata, rotala blood red, rotala indica, callicostella prabaktiana, glossostigma elatinoides

How did you decide what to keep in your tank?​

Purely by being a regular at several LFS’s and buying up anything that fancies me

Any stocking regrets?​

None at all! I love all the fish in there, they are all quite rare and expensive, just the kind of fish I love haha.

What do you love most about this hobby?​

Two big ones, first and foremost is the peace it brings into my life. It is form of escapism and just sitting in front of the tank is my daily meditation and reflection time. The second thing I love about this hobby is the community and the people that it’s brought into my life. There is a certain camaraderie that comes with sharing this unique thing that’s enriched out lives.

Who was responsible for getting you into the hobby?​

My father, every since I was a toddler we always had some sort of fish in the household, I got into keeping monsterfish in high school and then shrimps and aquascaping in my later years.

Who or what in the hobby most influences/inspires you?​

I think ADG and the Senske brothers have influenced me the most. I spent my early days of aquascaping visiting their shop multiple times a week and through being around them, I picked up a lot of their personality and style in my work.

What’s your dream tank?​

UNS 150U. Not too big, not too small.

What was your biggest challenge with this tank and how did you get past it?​

APATHY. I let this tank go neglected countless times. My mental health was not too great when I first started this tank, it’s really true that your mental state is reflected in how your tank(s) look. Sometimes you need to just find that spark and get back into it, remember why it makes you happy. Progress and results are the greatest motivation, and you gotta remember to keep the momentum once you get the ball rolling. If things get bad and you let that deter you from fixing it, the tank becomes a downward spiral that’s typically hard to escape.

What is the most valuable piece of equipment for this tank?​

I would say the Hakkai stones are my most prized item in this layout. My set of Hakkai stones have been carefully collected and curated over several years, a few stones at a time.

Any future plans for this tank?​

I’m going to be tearing it down to make room for my UNS setups (several layouts coming soon).

Any special tips for success or advice you’d like to share with other hobbyists?​

Don’t be too reactive chasing numbers and parameters. Set the stage and then let nature do her thing. Be patient, don’t overthink, and let the plants tell you what they need.

Any closing thoughts or comments?​

Although this tank ranked horribly in the IAPLC 2022 ( I think I got somewhere around rank #1200), the scape itself meant a lot to me. I spent a couple years in a hiatus from the hobby because my work life was draining the passion out of me. When I quit my Pharmacy office job, I started aquascaping again and for some reason I was gravitated towards iwagumis for my first 5 or so scapes after I rejoined the hobby. I didn’t make that choice on purpose but upon some deep reflection I concluded that I subconsciously chose to do iwagumis during my comeback because of their simplicity and elegance. I realized that simplicity is what I needed in my life to counterbalance the chaos and complexity that was suffocating me in the outside world. This tank was never meant to be a contest tank, but I entered it for the sake of being present in the competition in the hopes of it reviving an ember that was going to burn out. It most certainly did.